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Billing is a film term denoting the amount and order in which film credits information is presented in advertising and on the film itself. Information given in billing usually consists of the actors appearing in the movie, the directors, producers, the companies producing and distributing the movie (by name and/or logo), and artistic and technical crew. The title of the movie is also considered to be part of the billing.

Historically, on-screen billing was presented at the beginning of a film, with only a restatement of the cast, with perhaps a few additional players, at the end. Since the early 1970s, however, at least some significant amount of the billing has been reserved to follow the end of the film (generally also including a recap of the billing shown at the beginning); and by the 1990s, some films had moved all billing except company logos and the title to the film's end. Although popularised by the Star Wars series (see below), this 'title-only' billing became an established form for summer blockbusters with the release of Lethal Weapon 2 in 1989. This has led to an occasional practice of even leaving the title to the end, e.g., The Mummy Returns (2001).

Actor/director billing

Generally speaking, the order in which credits are billed signify their importance to the film. For example, the first is usually the motion picture company, followed by the director, producer, major starring actors, the title of the movie, then the rest of the starring actors. The order in which the latter are billed are usually always directly related to an individual's status in the film industry or role in the film. If the main credits occur at the beginning, then the director's name is last to be shown before the film's narrative starts. However, if all the billing happens at the end, then his/her name will be displayed first. Depending on their standing, they may be granted an additional credit such as, for instance, "A Steven Spielberg Film".

The actors whose names appear first are said to have "top billing". They usually play the principal characters in the film and have the most screen time. Well-known actors may, however, be given top billing for publicity purposes if juvenile, lesser-known, or first-time performers appear in a larger role: e.g., Marlon Brando and Gene Hackman were both credited above Christopher Reeve in Superman (1978), despite Reeve playing the title character. Top-billed actors are almost always named also in advertising material such as trailers, posters, billboards and TV spots. Having a particular star at top billing can often draw audiences to see a movie regardless of any other aspect of it.

Also, an actor may also receive "last billing", which usually designates a smaller role played by a famous name. They are usually credited after the rest of the lead cast, prefixed with "and". In some cases, the name was followed by "as" plus the name of the character. This is obviously not done if that character is unseen for a great part of the movie.

The two or three top-billed actors in a movie will usually be announced prior to the title of the movie, this is referred to as "above-title billing". For an actor to receive it, he/she will generally have to be well-established, with box-office drawing power. Those introduced afterwards are generally considered to be the supporting cast, not the actual "stars" of the movie.

Actors that may have higher status in the industry won't always get top billing: if they only played a bit-part then it would go to the person whose character was the main focus of the movie. Some major actors may have a cameo, where they are only noted within the other cast during the end credits. Sometimes top billing will be given based on a person's level of fame. For example, besides his brief appearance in Superman, Marlon Brando received top billing in both The Godfather and Apocalypse Now: his role in the latter could also be considered an extended cameo.

If more than one name appears at the same time or of a similar size, then those actors have "equal billing", with their importance decreasing from left to right. If a film has an ensemble cast with no clear lead role, it is traditional to bill the participants alphabetically or in the order of their on-screen appearance.

Competitive top-billing

Sometimes actors can become highly competitive over the order of billing. For example:

In the film Ocean's Twelve, Catherine Zeta-Jones received billing over Julia Roberts, which reportedly led to a feud between the pair.
In The Bonfire of the Vanities, award-winning F. Murray Abraham asked for above-title billing. This was rejected as too many other stars were getting it (Tom Hanks, Bruce Willis, Melanie Griffith). Thus, Abraham asked for his name to be completely removed, even from the credits.
Gary Oldman requested his name be completely removed from the billing and credits of Hannibal, though Nathan Murray is still credited as "Mr. Oldman's assistant".

Filmmaker billing

  • In 1977, George Lucas resigned from the Directors Guild of America after it insisted, against his wishes, that he be credited at the beginning of the original Star Wars. Since he got his way, with only the film's title being shown, he has been generally viewed as being responsible for popularising this style of opening.

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This guide is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia.